August 14, 2009

The Non-Lawyer Agent: Can My Friend Represent Me In Court?

The short answer is maybe. While someone is entitled to represent themselves in court or be represented by a lawyer, there is no automatic right to have a friend or family member act on your behalf. (See R. v. Dick, a 2002 decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal.)

This is because the court is concerned that people are represented by someone competent and ethical.

The court's preoccupation with whether a person is well-represented may seem absurd to someone who can't afford a lawyer and can't represent themselves; surely almost anyone would be an improvement in that case.

The problem, however, is that if a lawyer does not provide competent legal advice, the court will often intervene to prevent a miscarriage of justice. Also, the Law Society regulates lawyers to make sure they are competent and ethical, and takes disciplinary measures when they do not meet this standard.

However, no one will make sure your cousin is doing a decent (and honest) job on your behalf. If a friend or family member is incompetent, the court will not intervene, since the friend/family member is viewed as your agent, and therefore you are treated as though you are representing yourself.

This means that someone who chooses to be represented by an agent gives up the legal right to effective assistance by a lawyer. (See R v. Romanowicz, an Ontario criminal case which likely also applies to civil matters.)

That said, the court may permit someone to act as an agent so long as there is no evidence that the person is dishonest or unethical. This is a discretionary decision by a judge and so should not be considered an automatic right. In deciding whether to permit someone to act as an agent the court will consider a number of factors, including whether the proposed agent:
  • Has been shown to be incompetent
  • Would damage the fairness of the hearing or trial
  • Is facing criminal charges involving dishonesty or the administration of justice
  • Has been convicted of crimes of dishonesty
  • Has otherwise demonstrated a lack of good character that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute

While it is good to be aware of the disadvantages of using an agent, the reality is that for people who can't afford a lawyer and are ineligible for pro bono legal representation, but who also face barriers to representing themselves in court (such as literacy or language skills), finding a trusted friend or family member to act as agent may be an imperfect but necessary alternative.


  1. Shannon Salter,
    I appreciate your post. I have had a huge court case(4 1/2 years), and in this case I have been through 2 paid attorneys, and 2 public defenders, one i feel that did her job. I am looking into having a friend represent me, as I am not mentally able to represent myself.
    My friend has worked on her own cases pro bono, and has won. She is really intelligent and believes she can make a change in my case.

  2. 26, 2011 at 1:24 AM

    Of course this person is well able to take your case to court, I repesented my self in my divorce and i got a totally fair outcome.

    now since that i recently represented an acquaintance and i saved his house from the banks.
    Martin Markey-lay litigant, Ireland...

  3. i wrote my own repesention on paper the reason why? this online lawers ask fees to the poor and then tell us no money no justice while taking advantage of are question's and charge more its like a shark more you ask the more they eat. no disrespect my brother wants to go to law his heart is in the right place

  4. I find it absurd, that I,a lay person, was opermitted to represent my friend in Supreme Court, but UBC (B.C.) Law students are not permitted to represent any one in Supreme Court.
    The only warning I have, for anyone attempting to do the same as I did; mussel your friend, or get him or her to promise not to interupt.
    We still won the case, but it was marginal.

    1. how did you get to ask the court for permission to represent your friend?

  5. I am glad that I found this posting. My friend cannot afford legal council to obtain child support for her 2 children. Since he is not willing to sign the paperwork drawn up by the local prosecuting attorney, and has got himself a lawyer...she has very little options. if there is any advice for child support cases anyone can offer please do so. again thank you

    1. It is easy to file a notice of motion and carry the action forward to the courts. Representing your self or having a friend act as agent is allowed. I have represented a friend in BC Supreme court on several occassions and kept the defendants high priced lawyer from being successful. Another benifit is that as common folk we are not expected to fully understand the court proceedures so we are granted more leeway than a lawyer.

    2. Where I live, all one needs to do is file a formal complaint with the prosecutor.

    3. The Ontario Government has Support and Custody Order Enforcement which is offered through Community and Social Services - it is a free service for single moms and they will go so far as to suspend the drivers licence of dead beat fathers and mothers who refuse to pay child support. Very effective. I am a social worker and refer clients to them regularily. Good luck.

  6. if you are representing yourself in a child support issue in BC & the non paying parent has a lawyer can you contact that lawyer for reason to discuss your case

  7. Thanks for the post. Can someone please clarify an urgent issue for me? I am a current uni student and I have had claims against me made by the uni. I am wondering if I am legally allowed to have my current step-parent who is a practicing Barrista as a representative/attorney?


  8. Keep your speech slow-clear-short and familiarise yourself with the procedures. Judges are human and as long as you are right you will win. Read up on common law, previous cases, procedures of the courts, rules and principle facts in law and nake sure you have everything in chronological order. Be firm, cheerful, polite and assertive. Good luck. Justice relies on truth and what better truth is their than the truth that comes directly from thr witness themself??? You will win, its inevitable.

  9. District Court Pre-Arbitration, NC, I am the Defendent; no Attorney. Plaintiff named a (civilian) witness who instead, sat at counsel table advising her, did not testify and was not sworn in. The court did not provide any information that a civilian can act as counsel; had I known that, I would have had someone with me. I am psychologically disabled with the Federal Government and got very confused during the arbitration. The decision was granted to the plaintiff. I feel this was unfair. Is there a law about these situations?

  10. Can a friend represent me in provincial court for a criminal charge because I don't have enough money to get to that town? With my legal aid

  11. I believe that others are not acting on your behalf, they represent the other side of the coin.
    And there's nothing you can do about it.

  12. I have severe anxiety, and I wish my mom to represent me in my restraining order case, because she knows everything that has happened, as well as seen some of it happen. Could she represent me and how would I make that happen?


I would love to hear your views on this post so please leave a comment below. Unfortunately, I am unable to provide any legal advice through these comments. If you need legal advice, please contact one of the pro bono resources listed on the right side of the Rights & Remedies blog.